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Vo l . 7 N o . 1 me a new staging ground for old theory. I tried out all things German and kept what worked: warm and cold sides in the brewery, a secret life for myself and a public life for the concocted self I used in business.” Weaving throughout Henry’s retelling of his life in that rather short span of time is his reconciling with the hard, alcoholic, demented, murderous reaction to this place, as itinerant laborers attempted to leave their dysfunctional and hard lives for something new. It was the froth of booze and the flesh of women that kept Henry in business and made him his fortune and stature. Deep down, though, the staid Henry Weinhard ordered beatings, did dirty financial dealings and had his own confrontation with the dark self, which Strelow attributes to the “Joshua of the New World, of the west” – primitive and evangelical, bacchanal and raw, as well as an Everyman of sorts representing the dark side of the propped up “good” seen in the white marauders of civic importance who exploited this land of the Salish and hundreds of greater peoples they called Indians. Portland is a city of dogs when Henry shows up, canines that roam the dirty streets, that eat the detritus of white men, scavenging and representing much of the white man’s own persona in this new place: Portland, my first time, was an affair of dogs. There were dogs everywhere, allowed like revered beings to come and go in stores and streets and houses as if they were about some sacred missions. Dogs of no particular breeding, dogs of no particular grace, they were mostly brown dogs of small stature and flat heads. . . . But in Portland, they were minor gods like Hindu monkeys…” For readers, cracking open Strelow’s novel, he or she will be transformed into the world of novelist as he transmogrifies (literary-ily speaking) into his own sort of interloping stream of consciousness, back into the head and heart of a real fellow, this Henry Weinhard. This literary acumen allows us – facilitated by the author’s muscular and no-frills prose – into a world according to the point of view of Henry, with all the smells, tastes, sounds and feelings defining his own baptism in a new shaking world. It’s quintessential poetic license and a real yearning to discover the dichotomy of people who came West to Portland to exploit it because of their own failings and their own historical hardships, which Strelow deploys in this historically and metaphysically engaging book.

121 My own German side was itching throughout my reading of Strelow’s work. I have German roots as secondgeneration American via Scotland and Germany. In fact my namesake was a World War I navy lieutenant from Dortmund who eventually found his way to Iowa with brothers who had earlier embarked on immigration west from the confines of Bavaria and Schleswig. In Russel Kazal’s 2004 book, Becoming Old Stock:The Paradox of German-American Identity, he states: More Americans trace their ancestry to Germany than to any other country, according to the federal census. Arguably, by this measure, people of German descent form the nation’s largest ethnic group. Yet that fact could easily elude the casual observer of American life. Today, comparatively few signs remain of the once formidable political clout, organizational life, and ethnic consciousness of German Americans. Over the twentieth century, the ethnicity that went by that label underwent what the historian Kathleen Conzen calls a “thorough submergence.” The reader can see that willingness to discard germanity in this great book by the Salem author Strelow. The seed, though, like any great story, is the water, the filtering process of getting good water for the stock that will become libations, beers, lagers, ales, pilsners. Portland is defined by that flow, the downstream movement of great rivers into greater rivers until it dissipates into the Pacific, Willamette Valley, carrying Canadian soil some 500 miles off shore. The one thing that impresses the young Heinrich when he comes to Portland is the water: This river is everything in Portland. The sharp outhouse smell in Cincinnati has been avoided here because the city fathers used the river water as city water in the beginning. Front street just up from the river is stacked with barrels and sacks at the mercantiles. Cut lumber you can smell but not see; the smell is coming from across the river at the sawmill, and the lumber is barged across when needed or loaded on ships bound outward toward the Columbia and then the Pacific. On milling days you can smell flour in the air arriving on the north wing from Spaulding’s Mill.

Cirque, Vol. 7 No. 1  

A Literary Journal for the North Pacific Rim

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